Stalinist Architecture refers to an era, from 1922-1952, of architectural experimentation and project execution commissioned by the government of Stalin in the Soviet Union. This style was at its epitome in the fifties, which is when the 7 scrapers in Moscow were built. 

The style was prominently used as a symbol of power and authority and intended to create its own identity, which was supposed to be different from the west. It gave some of the tallest skyscrapers of its time before it was intentionally stopped and the local architecture took over again.

1. A Distinct Thought Was Given to the Architectural Character

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Stalinist Architectural Character_©2021 worldatlas.com

Stalinist buildings looked duller than the opulent edifices of centuries gone by. Most buildings belonging to this style were colored grey or brown. They had humongous decor elements (e.g., Greek-temple-styled columns several floors high) to draw attention from a distance, yet behind these elements were quite simple lines of simple windows. 

While interiors of the flats were rather shabby (although the high ceilings remind of more opulent times), interiors of public buildings were often seemingly opulent, with columns, murals, and bas-reliefs. Invariably, Soviet symbolism like hammer and sickle symbol, images of kolkhoz workers, etc was used heavily. 

2. Local Talent Was Banned from Working

Ancient and local architecture was not valued, and entire blocks of buildings and cemeteries were destroyed to be replaced by Socialist Realist edifices or plazas, thought to be a necessity for a socialist city. Architects from Russia were brought in for designing and execution as most local architects were either murdered, expelled, or arrested in the Soviet Genocide.

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Plazas in Stalinist Architecture_https://fliiby.com/file/7tzvqnb4sa9/ , (35) Pinterest 

3. Soviet Architecture had an Influence on Religious and Social Gatherings

Soviet atheist policies did not allow new churches to be constructed. Instead, buildings that could be used (among other purposes) to disseminate Soviet propaganda were built. The most significant were cinemas (Every Soviet town and district had to have a cinema where propaganda movies would be shown to the general public). 

Additionally, educational institutions that symbolized Soviet culture and Soviet government buildings were constructed in the style, dominating over their surroundings. While Stalinist Architecture may seem expensive, it wasn’t so as cheap labor could be utilized to build it, including prisoners of war. The same projects were used in many cities, such as similar-looking cinemas were built in Jelgava and Daugavpils.

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Red Army Theatre_© Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46575920 

4. Impact on Personal Spaces and Private Lives

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Impact on Personal Spaces and Private Lives_© Wikimedia Commons

The biggest difference between the previous centuries and the Stalinist era was the primary function of the buildings. Apartment sizes were strictly controlled under Soviet occupation and the large buildings were planned to accommodate many small flats. Exceptions were made for the Soviet elite who were provided with larger flats.

5. The Palace of The Soviets

The Palace of the Soviets was intended to be the largest and most massive skyscraper conceived by Stalin for Moscow. Its projected height was 415 m according to the final plans, with a statue of Lenin at the top of another hundred meters. Its functions would be administrative, to hold congresses and celebrations. 

However, its execution was stopped at the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945). The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was demolished in 1931 to be erected in its place, and by the end of the 1930s, its foundations were already laid. The German invasion of 1941 during the armed conflict halted the works.

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The Palace of The Soviets_© Wikimedia Commons

6. Bunkers Underneath ‘Seven Sisters’ in Case of War

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Bunkers Underneath ‘Seven Sisters’ in Case of War- Ministry of Foreign Affairs_Asbarez

With World War 2 memories still fresh and the on-going Cold War, Joseph Stalin’s skyscrapers were designed with certain precautions in mind. Each Scraper had its underground bunker which could provide shelter to all residents in case of an unprecedented attack. According to sources, there is a fully-equipped command bunker under the only administration building among the Sisters, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

7. Kudrinskaya Plaza Building: The Spy Skyscraper

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Kudrinskaya Plaza Building: The Spy Skyscraper_© Igor Butyrskii

This skyscraper of 176 and 22 floors (17 usable) primarily functions for residential use. The central tower is topped with an antenna and the elevation is full of sculptures. The apartments were designed for the Soviet elite of the time and it was completed in 1954. 

The building has more than 450 apartments and includes an underground bunker for its tenants. The bunker was accessible to “diggers” and adventure seekers. It has a supermarket. It is known as “the house of the aviators” because many of its residents were pilots, astronauts, or aeronautical engineers. The topmost floors were for the KGB and its listening devices were intended to spy on the US embassy.

8. One Skyscraper Was Intentionally Built Tilted to One Side

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One Skyscraper Was Intentionally Built Tilted to One Side_© Legion Media

The skyscraper near Krasnye Vorota metro station proved to be the most challenging construction for Soviet engineers. The construction of the station which was being executed simultaneously released a lot of groundwater. To continue work, the engineers froze the water, but it caused the ground level to rise. 

Hence, the builders calculated the degree of artificial tilt needed to neutralize the incline which would have inevitably occurred when the water unfroze and the building settled. When the construction was finally over, the tilted building simply fell into the right position – a very risky and extraordinary engineering solution.

9. Red Door Square Building: Direct Access to The Metro Station

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Red Door Square Building_© Alan Hills, September 2009

Its construction was completed in 1953, with the structure measuring 138 meters and having 24 floors. It was created to facilitate the Ministry of Heavy Industries. Presently, the main building functions as the headquarters to several administrative units, such as those of the Ministry of Transport, the Stock Exchange, and other public institutions. 

The building was built in the place of the Red Gate, which until 1927 catered as a triumphal arch erected in honor of the victory of the Russian army in the battle of Poltava. The USP of this skyscraper is that it has a metro station just below, which can be accessed from the ground floor of the building.

10. The style was eventually canceled and banned from use.

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The style was eventually canceled and banned from use_© Serguei Fomine/Global Look Press

The Stalinist style was abruptly canceled soon after Stalin’s death in 1955; the Soviet institutions decided that the style was just a part of Stalinist grandeur. While the period of Stalinist Architecture was short, it made a lasting influence on Latvian cities (especially Riga) due to massive resources spent in building new buildings and destroying old ones in the era, disregarding the economic needs. 

Additionally, it was the period when the devastation caused by World War 2 had to be repaired, and with Stalinist ideologies such repairs typically meant outright destruction of damaged buildings, to be replaced by Socialist Realist ones.

Sharvari Rajwaday
Author

Designing for change has always been an aspiration. This is me doing the same through words. My interests in the field include Research, Sustainable strategies and Urban design and hope to work on similar lines in the future.

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